Nonprofit Volunteer Survey Guide

As a nonprofit, you have probably seen a lot of volunteers come and go. With most of your financial resources devoted to serving your community members, you rely heavily on volunteers to run your program.

The problem is finding and keeping them.  So what can you do to keep the ones you have and find more like them?

3 Reasons Why Volunteerism is Declining

A 2013 study showed a decline in the number and percentage of Americans volunteering. Clearly nonprofits will continue to face challenges around staffing.

The main objections to volunteering are:

  1. Volunteers don’t have time.
  2. They don’t feel appreciated.
  3. Their skills and talents are not put to good use.

Ok, I admit that it may be hard to convince people that they do have the time. The real issue is that they are choosing to do something else.  And it just may be that they are volunteering for another cause.

As a nonprofit you may think you don’t have competitors, but the truth is that all other charitable causes are fighting for your donors’ time and money. It's possible that your volunteers that leave feel more appreciated at another organisation that better utilises their skills and talents.

How to Increase Volunteerism for Your Nonprofit

The number one reason why people volunteer is that they want to feel that they’re making a difference. Besides the rewards for working for a worthy cause, there are two other compelling reasons to volunteer:

1. Increase the odds of finding employment.

Volunteers are more likely to acquire new skills, contacts, and the ability to demonstrate their value to the group they are assisting.

Volunteering is one of the most powerful ways to gain leadership skills. This is because, according to Forbes contributor Karl Moore, it is not about “carrots and sticks but about persuasion and getting people to grasp and follow your vision.”

By reaching out to corporations in the community and suggesting volunteering as a corporate benefit you can tap into a previously unknown volunteer pool.  Explain to the human resource department or benefit manager how their employees can gain skills from volunteering:

“Having corporate programs that encourage employees to work as volunteers for organisations in their community are one way to offer an extra corporate benefit that makes employees feel pride and satisfaction, and makes them happier and more productive workers.” - Karl Moore via Forbes

2. Volunteering is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.

Studies show that volunteering increases energy levels, decreases depression, lessens isolation, and lowers mortality rate.

With all of this in mind, more folks these days are taking a volunteer vacation. These folks find traveling with a purpose far more rewarding than lounging around.

“Voluntouring” is a new form of tourism that provides people the opportunity to explore different destinations and work from the heart. These folks are energised by giving back while finding downtime in a glorious location.

If your organisation is located in a beautiful destination, take advantage of this. You can have your charity listed on one of several volunteer destination guides.

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Survey Your Volunteers

The number one thing you can do to find out why your loyal volunteers stay while others leave is to ask them regularly.

Feedback will give you data that you can immediately act on. Ask them how often they volunteer to determine whether they are regulars or occasional volunteers, along with other vital questions.

Skills and Talent Usage

Volunteers need to feel that their talents and skills are being put to good use. This is especially true of the boomer generation.

So, ask your volunteers if they found the work rewarding and if they felt their skills and talents were put to good use.

According to the Volunteering in the United States survey, “Providing professional or management assistance, including serving on a board or committee” is the second most popular form of volunteering for Americans over 55, after “collecting, preparing, distributing or serving food.”

To fully tap into the skills and talents of your volunteers, consider consulting positions or pro-bono services for some of your more talented staff.

Feeling Valued

In your survey, be sure to ask your volunteers if they felt welcomed and appreciated while volunteering.

Consider factors that might have made them feel uncomfortable. For instance, are you serving those with addictions? Is your nonprofit in an impoverished area? If so, consider asking  if the volunteers felt safe while working.

Rating scales are great way to accurately gauge respondents' feelings.  Referred to as a semantic differential scale, this question type uses bipolar answer options to measure attitudes or emotions.

If your questions have the same answer options, combine them into a grid to keep your survey short and reduce survey fatigue.  Here is an example:

semantic differential survey volunteers

Volunteer Recognition

People volunteer for different reasons, one of which can be recognition. Be straightforward in your survey and ask if your volunteers felt appreciated by your organisation.

Be sure to have a plan to make your volunteers feel recognised. A key rule to any survey is never ask a questions unless you are willing to do something about it.  Show your volunteers you care by making changes based on the input they provide.

Some people are fine with private recognition, while others want public attention. Social media and press releases are two great ways to draw attention to your organisation while recognising those who serve it.

Relationship Building

People thrive on relationships and become depressed when they feel rejected or isolated, so it’s not surprising that counselors and therapists recommend volunteering to help those who are feeling depressed or alone.  Volunteering is a great way for people to connect and get involved.

A close connection with your staff and members of the community you serve could be the main reason why some of your loyal volunteers stay.

Ask your volunteers to rate their level of happiness with the relationships among those they are working with and serving. Here is an example:

volunteer happiness survey

Know Your Volunteers

Speaking of building relationships, find out who your volunteers are by including demographic questions in your survey that reveal vital details about your volunteers and how to engage them.

Knowing whether your loyal volunteers are stay-home mothers, students, or part of the boomer or X generation will allow you to better appeal to and persuade them.  You can also use this data to seek out additional volunteers with similar traits. 

Finally, these kinds of questions give you information that will help you can plan fun activities or an event to reward volunteers for their time and service.  Keeping them connected and involved leads to loyalty and longevity.

As a bonus, you can use an open text question in your survey to ask them why they chose to volunteer for your organisation. Open text questions can often be revelatory, because they allow respondents space to say exactly what they're thinking outside of pre-selected options.

Make Your Vision Their Mission

One more thing: are you sure that your volunteers understand your mission, vision and values? Don’t assume that just because they found you they must know all about you.

Include a question in your survey to see if they fully understand your mission and values; be sure to ask if they feel you are effective in achieving your goal.

Make a plan to always meet and greet new volunteers. During this introduction ask about them. Find out about their interests and passions.

Then explain why your cause is important and how you are making a difference. Not only will this introduction make them feel welcomed, but it will also get them onboard with your goal.

Let them feel your passion and make it contagious! Tell them about your cause and what is unique about your approach so that they understand what sets your nonprofit apart from the others.

Make your volunteers feel that they are the ones making a difference and they will make your vision their mission!

(As a bonus, reports that volunteers are almost twice as likely to donate to a charity than non-volunteers.)


Volunteering in America Infographic

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